Menopause, when a woman has not had a menstrual period for 12 months, is a normal part of aging and, on average, occurs at age 51. The study did not determine why cardiovascular problems were more prevalent among women who experienced menopause before age 50, but it noted that the drop in estrogen levels that accompanies menopause may play a role in this. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, accounting for 1 in 5 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the American Heart Association points out that menopause does not cause cardiovascular disease. Rather, it says, certain risk factors increase at this stage of a woman’s life: Blood pressure tends to go up, as do levels of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” type) and triglycerides. Other life factors that are not heart-healthy — such as smoking, getting too little exercise and being overweight — may also contribute. The bottom line for women reaching menopause? Health experts suggest focusing on what you can control — these risk factors — to keep cardiovascular disease at bay.